Tay’s review published on Letterboxd:
HM—i don’t think I got as much out of this as I was hoping. the first 20 minutes, i was certainly convinced it would be a heavyweight contender for film of the year; by the last 20 minutes, i was treading “I hate this” territory. the middle—the long, long middle—involved some outstanding acting (Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander are excellent, as expected), divine costumes, and some truly confusing narrative choices. not that David Lowery’s The Green Knight was ever going to be a direct adaptation of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, but the interpretation here feels more meandering than meditative.
the original text is about courage and what we think we are owed (honour, glory, love); the film understand the blueprint for a Hero’s Journey from cowardliness to true earned bravery, but fumbles the clear through line with an overly bloated collection of fragments that don’t stack up to actual change. we’re shortchanged an introduction to Gawain—we’re shown he likes drinking, maybe has some commitment issues, and has royal blood—but by the time we arrive at the crucial Christmas Game, i didn’t feel like i understood why this Gawain was standing up to the giant creature wielding an otherworldly axe. he doesn’t seem boastful enough to do it with blind confidence. he doesn’t seem consciously cowardly enough to seize this as a moment for foolish greatness. he just kind of rises up from the back of a crowd, and off on this journey he begins with no concrete feeling of intention or momentum.
at the year-after outset, we follow Gawain on his doomed journey to finish the game across vast landscapes that feel as sprawling as Death Stranding. again, really beautiful moments—but these moments feel like a series of huge landscape painting hung high in a cold museum: you can get lost in them and gawk at their sublime size for only so long before you start itching to move on from it. the best chapter involves the haunting of St. Winifred: an episode in which we see Gawain actively courageous, and for nothing in exchange. but then all the character growth is sidelined for more chapters that feel significantly less intentional. what are the giants from the trailer if not Giants to Show in the Trailer? cool to look at, but… what deeper than a reflection in this shallow puddle?
i was most frustrated by the Lord’s house because it highlighted just how serious the film was taking itself—and how much lighter or funnier it could’ve been. the humour in this particular climaxes in a less-than inspired way, serving really to underscore just how lacking the overall delight is. i say this as someone who didn’t actually read most of the medieval texts assigned in college—but, aside from scooting by on secondary synopses and analyses, i was always moved by the way medievalists revel in how funny early texts can be. there are glimmers of that joy, but they’re often quickly overshadowed by a long stretch of brooding. this chapter also felt like the biggest stray from Gawain’s journey, and how he changes (or fails to change) doesn’t feel tied to the same character arc we saw begin to bloom with St. Winifred.
as much as i felt this film stumbled (and could it have stumbled less it were tighter, more finely curated down?), it still sticks an incredible landing. i found the ending to be so effective as to redeem it significantly, arriving at a place of emotional saliency and effective storytelling. in this way, it does effectively mirror its own morals: those brave enough to be patient may yet be exalted, even if it comes about unexpectedly, and with less glory than for which one naively yearns.